Is Tigers Intimidation Factor Overblown
But with that comes an inflated belief that Woods only wins because everyone wilts.
There is plenty of evidence, of course, the latest example coming Sunday at Doral when former PGA champion David Toms had his only three-putt of the week on the final hole. That allowed Woods, who was watching from the fairway, to play away from the water with a 9-iron and win with a bogey.
And dont forget what happened 11 times zone apart in consecutive weeks.
Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal missed a 4-foot par putt to lose on the second playoff hole at Torrey Pines. The next week, three-time major winner Ernie Els hit a 4-iron that came up a yard short and into the water to lose a playoff to Woods in Dubai.
But to suggest that even steely major champions suffocate in Woods presence is to deny Woods proper credit for being perhaps the greatest closer golf has ever seen.
I look at this way'I put myself there, Woods said after winning Doral. So if I put myself there enough times, those things are going to happen, as well as other guys are going to make birdies to beat me. Thats the way it goes. As long as Im there ... its not a bad place to be.
He has played well enough to take a two-shot lead into the final round 20 times on the PGA Tour and never lost. He has had at least a share of the 54-hole lead 37 times on tour, and has lost only three times'to Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson and the ultimate trivia answer, Ed Fiori.
Runner-up finishes are rare.
Everyone is keeping score as Woods tries to break Jack Nicklaus benchmark of 18 professional majors. What might be tougher for Woods to surpass is another Nicklaus standard -- 19 times a runner-up in the majors.
Nicklaus finished second a lot, a testament to his greatness.
Woods finishes second far fewer times, which speaks just as much if not more'to his will to win.
In their first 10 years on the PGA Tour, Nicklaus and Woods either won or finished second about one-third of the time. The difference is Woods won 48 tournaments and has been runner-up 19 times; Nicklaus won 38 tournaments and was runner-up 30 times.
Woods can be an intimidating presence, no doubt.
Still, some people make it sound as though Toms was standing on the 18th green at Doral when he looked over his shoulder at Woods in the fairway and started shaking.
Toms had a 4-iron from the rough with a pin cut over the water to the left. His only choice without doing anything stupid was to play to the fat part of the green and take his chances. He was left with a 60-foot putt that, once it starts to break, goes swiftly with the grain toward the water. The best he could have done, without the hole getting in the way, was to leave it about 4 feet below the cup. His putt slid 10 feet by and he missed it.
Toms made only five bogeys all week. Three came at the 18th hole, a monster for everyone but the Herculean hitters on tour. Par was no small task in the final round, when the average score was 4.5.
Woods caught a decent lie in the rough and had 170 yards to the hole. Odds were that if Toms made his par putt, Woods hits his 9-iron to the middle of the green and makes par.
Thats what he does'whatever it takes to win.
Whenever someone makes a mistake, it is too quickly written off as the Tiger factor.
If Els was so spooked by Woods in a playoff at Dubai, how to explain what happened to Woods on the same course four years ago? He was tied with Thomas Bjorn going to the par-5 18th, hit into the water and made double bogey to lose by two shots.
Few players are more crafty with a wedge than Olazabal, and his bunker shot on the 16th hole in the playoff at Torrey Pines was scary good. Trouble was, he left himself 4 feet straight down the hill and breaking sharply to the left on greens that will never be mistaken for what one might find in Phoenix.
Davis Love III used to take a beating for folding whenever Woods was atop the leaderboard. What rarely gets mentioned is that Love has never had the lead, or even been tied with Woods, going into the final round.
Perhaps his best chance was in the final of the Match Play Championship two years ago, when Love failed to convert several good birdie chances that let Woods off the hook. Was that the Tiger factor? That might have been more a product of Love, for he did the same thing this year at La Costa losing to Geoff Ogilvy.
Woods is a great closer because he rarely makes mistakes. And even when he stumbles'he fell flat on his face at Augusta National last year with back-to-back bogeys to fall into a playoff -- he usually recovers.
It was at the Masters in 2002 when all the stars'Els, Mickelson, Goosen, Vijay Singh'made one mistake after another in a hopeless attempt to catch him.
When other guys are up there, you know that if you can just stay around, theres a good chance they might come back two or three shots, Mickelson said that day. But Tiger doesnt ever seem to do that. You know you have to make birdies to catch him.
Woods average score in the final round when he wins is 68.6. Only five times has he won despite shooting over par in the final round, all but one of those occasions a major or World Golf Championship.
The mystique is returning not because his competition is folding.
Its because Woods is winning.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship
ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.
Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.
''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''
The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.
Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.
Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.
''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''
Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.
Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.
First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.
Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round
CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.
Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.
Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.
“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”
Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.
“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”
Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win
CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.
Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.
“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.
“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”
Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.
Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey
CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.
This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.
Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.
Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.
“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”
Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.
“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”